144. Who Said You Were Mexican?

Happy May fifth, although I’ve already covered Cinco de Mayo in a sneaky way in my post on Saint Patrick’s Day. This last post for Teacher Appreciation Week is also about teaching Mexican-American students.

I was once asked to chose the races of my students.

If you’ve followed A Writing Life at all, you know my belief that we are all one gene pool.  All “blacks” have some “white” ancestors, and all “whites” have some “black” ancestors. There may be a few statistical anomalies that fail to bear this out, but probably not.

Look at any post between January 18 and February 18 of 2016, and you will find out more than you want to know on the subject.

If this is true of the USA, it is doubly true of Mexico. The English came to America as families, and avoided Indians or fought with them. The Spanish came to Mexico as soldiers and married the native women. That’s painting with a broad brush, but it’s a reasonably accurate overview.

Back to the story. When I was a relatively new teacher, I was preparing to administer the yearly state-wide standardized test to my students. I was given a computer printout with their names and told to fill in the appropriate race for each. White, hispanic, black, eskimo . . .  You’ve probably seen similar lists.

I asked how I was to know? I didn’t get a good answer, but it was apparent that I wasn’t supposed to ask the kids themselves. Given the history of Mexico, the Mexican-Americans were all white, at least partially, but that would not have been acceptable.

Okay, there they sit. Help me choose.

What about using skin color as a criterion? I had no student that year that anyone would have called black, so that simplifies things. What about that boy? Is he Mexican, or did he just spend the summer playing shirtless in the sun? What about Khrishna Srinivas; he’s dark enough?

Maybe names will tell us. What about Maria de la Rosa, that pale blonde whose parents just moved here from Madrid? If I don’t put her name down, anyone who just reads these names will think I cheated.

What about Paul Rogers, son of Bill Rogers and Delores Sandoval? White, of course.

But what about his cousin Raul? His father is Jorge Sandoval, Delores’s brother, and his mother is Beth Rogers, Bill’s sister.

Raul Sandoval – Mexican, of course.

If you don’t find this humorous, don’t worry; neither do I. The event actually happened. I made up the examples, but there were real ones I could have used.

This all happened thirty years ago. Things are better now, aren’t they? Maybe? Try this on for size. The man on the six o’clock news says that the latest poll determined that 73 percent of Latinos prefer Hillary Clinton.

Really? How does he know?  Who said the members of the survey group were Latinos? Who set up the criteria for what it takes to be a Latino?

And doesn’t this all sound just a little absurd?


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